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MBPT Spotlight: CBS Giving Affiliates Most Help With 10 p.m. Lead-Ins to Late Local News

With a little more than a month left in the 2014-15 broadcast network television regular season, CBS is drawing the most live viewers at 10 p.m., the primetime hour network affiliates value the most since it leads into the local 11 p.m. news telecasts.

With the local stations paying the networks fees for carrying their programming, the 10 p.m. network program hour is of major importance to the stations since their 11 p.m. local news telecast is a major driver of ad revenue for them and the network lead-in matters.

Right now, CBS is winning the 10 p.m. hour among live viewers season-to-date on all five weekday nights. The data from Nielsen is for strictly live viewers, not live-plus-same-day.

CBS drama NCIS: Los Angeles was locked in a tight battle with NBC’s The Blacklist for viewers on Monday night at 10 until the NBC series went on hiatus in December and was then moved to Thursday nights at 9 when it returned. NCIS: Los Angeles is averaging 7.9 million live viewers, similar to what The Blacklist was averaging before it moved to the Thursday night at 9 time period, according to Nielsen data.

Since The Blacklist moved after returning in February, NBC has been relegated to last place among the Big Three broadcast networks on Monday nights at 10, averaging just 5 million live viewers for The Night Shift and 4.2 million for State of Affairs. ABC with its veteran 10 p.m. Monday drama Castle is averaging 6.7 million viewers for the season.

CBS did NCIS: Los Angeles no favors in moving it from Tuesday night at 9 last season, where it was averaging 12.3 million live viewers leading out of NCIS. However, moving it to Monday at 10 has been a nice plus for the CBS affiliates. Last season, CBS ran two new dramas on Monday night at 10 during the season – Hostages and Intelligence. Hostages averaged 4.4 million live viewers, while Intelligence averaged 6.4 million. That kept CBS in third place among the Big Three in live viewership in the time period all season.

Meanwhile on Mondays last season, The Blacklist and Castle were in a virtual dead heat among viewers, with the NBC series averaging 8.3 million live viewers for the season and Castle averaging 8.2 million. Although The Blacklist drew a younger audience, averaging a 2.2 rating among viewers 18-49, compared to Castle’s 1.5.

On Tuesday night at 10, Person of Interest has averaged 8.2 million live viewers this season, and while that is down a large chunk from the 9.8 million it averaged last season, it is still the Big Three viewer leader in the time period for the season. NBC drama Chicago Fire is averaging 6 million live viewers at 10, while ABC drama Forever is averaging 3.8 million live viewers this season.

On Wednesday night at 10, CBS opened the season with new drama Stalker, which averaged 6.7 million live viewers. Mid-season replacement series CSI: Cyber has done even better, averaging 8.2 million live viewers. NBC is also second among live viewers on Wednesday night at 10, where Chicago PD is averaging 5.6 million live viewers compared to ABC’s Nashville, which is averaging 4.3 million live viewers.

CBS was the clear winner on Thursday nights in fourth quarter when it was airing NFL games and averaging 16.2 million live viewers for the night. While on many nights that 16.2 million average had dwindled by 11:30 p.m. or so when the games ended leading into local news, it was still a mass number.

Since football ended on Thursday nights, CBS has still been able to maintain the 10 p.m. live viewer lead with veteran drama Elementary returning in the time period. Elementary has averaged 6.5 million live viewers at 10 p.m. While that’s down from the 7.3 million it averaged last season at 10, it is still drawing more live viewers than ABC. While ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder was averaging 6.5 million live viewers prior to ending its season recently, its replacement series, American Crime, is averaging only around 4 million live viewers, dragging down the season-to-date viewership in the time period. On Thursday night on NBC, Parenthood which aired through fourth quarter and into first, averaged 3.5 million live viewers, new drama Allegiance didn’t do much better, averaging 3.3 million live viewers, and a third drama The Slap, did about the same. Now NBC has moved Dateline into the time period, which may not only draw some more live viewers but will also be more compatible as a lead-in to local news.

On Friday night, CBS drama Blue Bloods at 10 p.m. is a juggernaut. Since its median age audience is one of the oldest on TV at 65, its viewers are in the habit of primarily watching live rather than DVRing it. Blue Bloods this season has averaged 9.5 million live viewers, compared to 5.2 million for ABC’s 20/20 and 2.8 million for NBC drama Constantine. NBC has also aired Dateline on Friday night at 10 and it has averaged 5.6 million viewers.

Much like all TV viewership is a result of continuing audience options for watching video, live broadcast viewing at 10 p.m. has declined this season. Even Blue Bloods and its 9.5 million live viewers is down a tick from the 9.7 million live viewers it averaged last season at 10.

Ironically 20 years ago, when live viewership at 10 p.m. truly drew mass audiences for all the broadcast networks, it was the broadcasters that were paying the local stations to be their affiliates and carry their programming. Now, as 10 p.m. ratings have plummeted, the broadcasters have pressured the affiliates to pay them fees for the right to carry their programming.

During the 1995-96 season, ER on Thursday night at 10 averaged 32 million live viewers for NBC, and NYPD Blue on ABC on Tuesdays at 10 averaged 19.8 million live viewers. Even the news magazines at 10 were pulling in mass viewership. 20/20 on Friday at 10 p.m. for ABC averaged 19.6 million live viewers, while Dateline on Tuesday nights on NBC at 10 averaged 15.3 million live viewers.

Even a decade ago, live viewing was still drawing a significant number of viewers at 10 p.m. for the broadcast networks. During the 2004-05 season, CSI: Miami on Monday night at 10 for CBS averaged 19 million live viewers and Without a Trace on Thursday night at 10 averaged the same 19 million. Grey’s Anatomy aired on Sunday night that season and averaged 18.5 million live viewers at 10 p.m.

Even the lesser viewed shows in the 10 p.m. time period that season averaged well above 10 million live viewers. CSI: NY on CBS averaged 13.6 million live viewerson Wednesday at 10, Medium on NBC averaged 13.9 million live viewers on Monday at 10 and Law & Order: SVU on Tuesday night on NBC at 10 averaged 13.4 million live viewers.

Today, the local TV stations don’t seem to have much of a choice. If they refuse to pay the networks’ demand for fees to carry their programming they could be dropped and even the lesser watched broadcast network programming at 10 p.m. is going to draw more lead-in viewers for the stations than if it put on its own or syndicated programming.